Bullpen's record day, big hits lift Padres to season sweep of Mariners

Nelson Cruz’s home run sailed into the upper deck of the left field seats at Safeco Field, soaring about 30 feet above the heads of the Padres relievers sitting and standing in the visitors’ bullpen.

The phone didn’t ring. No one began throwing. No one even stretched a muscle.

Before Andy Green could manage his bullpen the way he wanted, he was going to let rookie starting pitcher Joey Lucchesi try to see his way through Wednesday’s fifth inning in what had become a two-run game.

“You’re trying to give leash and latitude to a guy,” Green said after the Padres completed a season sweep of the Mariners with a 5-4 victory. “… You manage things drastically different if you’re in a different context.”

That’s just the way it is this Padres season — even this month, even with this bullpen that is so good and that Green would have loved to let loose more often.

The 2018 season has so often been about learning and growing, so much so that the possibility of losing doesn’t get in the way of decisions Green makes.

But Wednesday, on the way to another result that meant absolutely nothing, was a series of events that showed what the Padres could be one day in a future that creeps ever closer.

For a rare instance, Green was able to accomplish the dual purpose of letting a young starter battle and actually pulling the strings on his bullpen the way a manager concerned primarily with winning would do.

The circumstances were right. The Padres, who have had so many short starts that their bullpen is often teetering on the edge of overuse, had not used any of their young pitchers since Saturday. They have a day off Thursday.

So there they were, with a lead and with four innings to play and with an abundance of live arms ready to pitch.

“For so long it’s just been survive,” Green said. “So this was nice to be able to set it up the way we wanted to.”

What happened was exactly how it was supposed to go, only exceedingly so.

“Nine straight strikeouts,” Green said. “I don’t recall seeing that before.”

No one had, at least not in the manner it happened between the start of the bottom of the sixth and the end of the eighth inning Wednesday.

When rookies Trey Wingenter, Robert Stock and Jose Castillo and veteran Craig Stammen strung together nine strikeouts, the Padres became the first team to ever have four different pitchers strike out every batter they faced in a game. It was the most consecutive strikeouts ever gotten by Padres relievers, and it tied Jake Peavy’s team record for successive strikeouts.

The Padres had gone up 5-0 on a couple errors, a couple home runs and a double.

Austin Hedges hit a two-run homer in the second and Hunter Renfroe hit a two-run homer in the fifth. Eric Hosmer reached on an error before Hedges’ blast, and Wil Myers reached on an error before Renfroe’s. Wil Myers’ double in the third inning, which scored Francisco Mejia from first base, accounted for the Padres’ other run.

Lucchesi (8-8) allowed three runs in the fifth.

Then the rookies went to work.

Wingenter struck out all three batters he faced in the sixth inning, Stock the only batter he faced in the seventh and Castillo the final two batters of the seventh and first one of the eighth.

Stammen, pitching in his third straight game (over four days), finished off the eighth with two more.

The streak stopped when Kyle Seager homered on the first pitch of the ninth inning from Kirby Yates, who would then close out his ninth save and third in three games.

Perhaps most encouraging to those involved is that while the three rookies all hit at least 97 mph on Wednesday, they also got strikes with their sliders.

“They’re starting to understand how they’re going to have to pitch here,” Yates said. “They’ve all made some adjustments, throwing breaking balls for strikes, pitching a little backward instead of trying to blow everybody away. Today, I was the only guy who didn’t strike out the side. It’s really impressive.”

The victory completed a sweep of the two two-game series against the Mariners – the first time either team has swept in the 21 years consecutive years they have played the interleague series. The Mariners are also the only team the Padres have swept this season.

The Padres completed their final long road trip of the season – an eight-game, 10-day trek – with five victories.

All that remains in 2018 is a six-game home stand against the Rangers and Giants, a six-game trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco and a season-ending three-game series against the Diamondbacks.

Whatever happens in those 15 games, the knowledge that every key member of the bullpen is under team control at least through 2019 – with most being so for much longer – is among the things that has the Padres believing in a better future.

“It puts us in a really good position,” Hedges said. “We’ve got all these young starters, young bullpen guys, veteran bullpen guys. With the adjustments our offense has made, we’re really growing in the right direction. It’s fun to see.”

kevin.acee@sduniontribune.com


UPDATES:

8:57 p.m.: This article was updated with postgame quotes and further reporting.

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